Calgary Stampeder centre Pierre Lavertu announced his retirement recently at the age of 27. The former first overall draft pick made the decision to leave the game after a pair of injury-plagued seasons saw him appear in just eight games since a divisional all-star season in 2015.
Lavertu’s departure from the Stamps marks the fourth time in three years that Calgary has lost a blue-chip offensive lineman due to unforeseen circumstances.
Brett Jones was drafted by the Stampeders in the second round of the 2013 CFL draft. Winning the league’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award in just his second pro season, Jones was well on his way to CFL stardom at just 24 years of age. That changed when Jones signed a free agent contract with the NFL’s New York Giants in February of 2015. Jones entered the Giants’ starting line-up permanently two years later and, after signing a one-year contract tender worth $2.9-million USD earlier this month, Jones should be in the Giants’ starting line-up once again this season.
Brander Craighead was drafted one round ahead of Jones in 2013 (seventh overall), but didn’t join the Stamps until 2014 due to his status as a redshirt junior. Craighead shone in seven starts as a rookie with his powerful 6’7, 300-pound frame enveloping opposing defensive linemen. The big man’s career was short-lived, however, when a series of head and ankle ailments held him out of the line-up for eleven games in 2014 and the entire 2015 season. Craighead formally announced his retirement in January of 2016.
Karl Lavoie was Calgary’s first-round selection in 2015 and impressed early with his ability to play centre, guard, and tackle. Suffering a knee injury in the first game of his CFL career, Lavoie never again saw the field at the professional level. The Laval product retired in May of 2017 after missing 35 of a possible 36 games over the course of his two-year career.
And now Lavertu has called it quits.
Three drafts. Four high selections.
Zero remain on Calgary’s roster.
The Stampeders have weathered the storm admirably given a challenging set of circumstances.
Spencer Wilson, a two-time CFL all-star, joined the Stampeders in 2011 as an undrafted free agent. Shane Bergman, a starter in Cowtown for the past four seasons, was drafted in the sixth round back in 2013. Brad Erdos, a veteran of 43 CFL contests, was a fourth-round selection in 2012. And Roman Grozman, a fourth-round pick from 2016, will return to the line-up this year after missing all of last season due to injury.
Garnering this type of production from the draft’s later rounds is the only reason why the Stampeders’ offensive line hasn’t fallen into disrepair over the past three seasons. Jones, Craighead, Lavoie, and Lavertu would make a formidable offensive line almost entirely unto themselves. The fact that the Stampeders have built a formidable unit in the absence of all four players is remarkably impressive.
Calgary’s losses should be a sobering reminder to teams around the league regarding the importance of drafting and developing Canadian offensive linemen. There is no such thing as having too many national hogs — between injuries, NFL opportunities, long-term health concerns, and off-field job opportunities, teams need to stockpile talent along the offensive line every year in the hope of achieving long-term success.
Keeping a large number of offensive linemen can take some creativity with the CFL’s limited roster size. Whether hogs end up on the active roster, the practice roster, back at school for a final year of USports eligibility or on the injured reserve (stashing healthy offensive linemen on the six-game injured list is called a “Jim Popp special” in some CFL circles), the important thing is keeping them around. Because you never know when you’ll need an extra Canadian offensive lineman.
Just ask the Stampeders.